We are all familiar with some of the world's great ideas. They guide our thinking and actions. They help us make sense out of the world we live in. The reason we admire great thinkers is because they have discovered the relationship between competing values and expressed that relationship in ways that we can all say, "Of course. Why didn't I think of that?"
Take as examples these great (and well-known) ideas:
"It is more blessed to give than to receive (Jesus)."
"Many a flower was born to blush unseen (Gray)."
"For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he (Proverbs)."
"All men are created equal (Declaration of Independence)."
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing (Burke)."
"All that glitters is not gold (Shakespeare)."
And many, many more.
Not all statements are ideas. Here are a few that do not qualify:
"Roses are red; violets are blue."
"I am angry about terrorist attacks."
"My sister is my hero."
And many, many more.
What makes the difference? Ideas serve three unique functions.
The Acid Test
1. An idea relates (equates, compares, contrasts) two competing values. The simplicity and forcefulness of an idea helps to explain and clarify the complex system of values we live in.
2. An idea applies to most or to all people. The values related by the idea are universal; they apply not just to one person but to many or most people. That's why ideas are important, because many listeners can see how the values apply in their worlds.
3. An idea provokes thought and discussion. Because ideas attempt to explain the phenomena we see around us, they are susceptible to interpretation. They can be tested against perceived realities. They evoke judgment. This is the reason that many ideas seem controversial. It is possible to take more than one position regarding an idea.
In one measure or another, every speech or presentation should be built around an idea. It is the idea that moves the listeners. It is the idea, if well presented, that will be remembered. As you prepare a presentation, test your thesis statement against the three standards above to see if it is really an idea?
Which of the following statements are ideas? If they are ideas, they will pass the test above.
Good teachers are good learners.
Wisdom is a form of wealth.
You are the architect of your own fate.
© Frank Richardson, 2009.